Getting back in the saddle

Credit Suisse speak to about their new returnship pilot programme.

Increasing numbers of companies are becoming interested in women who have taken a career break. Some are holding programmes to build returners’ soft skills, but Credit Suisse is going one step further.

It is currently in the middle of a returnship pilot programme in which returners who have taken at least two years out of their careers are paid to work for 10 weeks on a project to get back in the swing of working life.

Returnships have been running in the US for some years, but they have only made it across the Atlantic recently. Credit Suisse has started pilot programmes in both the US and UK this Spring. The US programme began at the end of March and the UK one on 28th April.

The trigger for its Real Returns programme were the need to increase the number of women at middle management level.

Helena Fernandes, Vice President and EMEA Head of Internal Mobility, says: “For Credit Suisse, the scheme offers another opportunity to build a strong talent pool and pipeline to senior talent. Real Returns complements our diversity initiatives and builds upon them. It’s a tremendous opportunity to re-engage with and support this pool of candidates at a crucial career juncture.”

Those taking part must have taken a career break of at least two years and they can be men or women. However, the first participants are all women.

Originally it was planned that there would be small group of people taking part in the pilot, but that number has swollen to 16.

Fernandes says: “We anticipated we would run five to eight projects, but we have extended this because of the calibre, experience and skills of the applicants.”

The candidates had to have some background in the financial sector, although that did not have to be experience of working in a bank.  Kirsty How, Vice President and Head of EMEA IB Experienced Recruiting, said she and her team spent a lot of time looking at which participants would fit into which existing projects and be able to add value over a finite time so they could feel a sense of achievement and have something to put on their cvs.

Support network

The programme began with an induction session which gathered participants together as a group, with senior speakers talking about changes that had taken place in their industry since the women had left the workplace.

Fernandes says: “”One of our goals was to bring our Real Returners together as a group so they could provide support to each other. You cannot underestimate the effect of a support network of people who are going through similar experiences. There’s a very strong community spirit.”

Throughout the programme the group have met individually for coffees or as a group for lunches.

At the induction, the participants took part in talent development exercises, building their soft skills, and talent development modules have continued throughout the returnship programme. The women are also receiving mentoring over the 10 weeks.

Interestingly, How and Fernandes say confidence was not a big issue with the female returners which may reflect their level of seniority and they soon discovered their skills were still relevant.

The participants will have to meet set objectives and managers will provide feedback. They are not, however, guaranteed a job at the end of the 10 weeks.

The intention is for the participants to be tracked following the programme and for the returnship to become a regular yearly event and to broaden out across Credit Suisse.

How says the returnship programme works both ways: “The project is an opportunity for us to get to know this talent pool and for them it is an opportunity to assess whether they want to be back in the workplace.”

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